England vs. India: Review
A look back at the pivotal moments and performances of the series.
The curtain finally came down on the biggest series of the English summer between The World’s No.1 Test team India and one of the closest challengers to their crown- England, resulting in an emphatic 4-1 triumph for the latter. While the scoreline might suggest a dominant performance by the home side, it does not reveal the entire story.
The story of Indian cricket on overseas tours has always been one of ‘so close yet so far’. This time around, it was no different. India had their chances in every test match barring the second test at Lords and the final one at The Oval. The series could have so easily ended 3-2 in India’s favour, had they managed to chase down relatively small targets at Edgbaston and at Southampton, which they narrowly lost by 31 and 60 runs respectively. The test at Lord’s was over the moment India lost the toss and were asked to bat first. In such overcast conditions, even the home team wouldn’t have fared much better and could so easily have come in second, had the toss gone India’s way and they were asked to take first strike. However sport isn’t built on what could have transpired but rather what actually did. India went down tamely at Lord’s losing by a massive margin of an innings and 159 runs, leaving them 2-0 down in the series with 3 to play.
India finally showed what they were capable of when they romped to victory at Trent Bridge, emphatically winning the test by 203 runs and thereby pulling the series back to 2-1. However their joy was short lived when they surrendered the series at Southampton and were convincingly beaten at The Oval by 118 runs. India had England on the ropes both at Edgbaston and at The Ageas Bowl only to let them off the hook on both occasions. It was this inability of Team India to seize the key moments that made the difference in the end.
Here’s a look back at what was a fascinating series and an analysis of it.
Misfiring batting units
In what was undoubtedly a series for bowlers, the batting units of both teams failing to fire, with the exception of India’s captain Virat Kohli and England’s Jos Buttler. This made for a low scoring series until the very last test. The inability of the openers from either side to give their teams solid starts were further compounded when the middle order batsmen also failed to put their hand up. There were occasional noteworthy contributions from either side -Pujara, Rahane, Rahul, Pant and Jadeja for India and Cook, Root, Bairstow, Woakes and Stokes for England, but overall it was a series to forget for batsmen of both sides.
Lower Order rescue acts
England found a saviour each time they found themselves in a hole (barring at Trent Bridge). If it was Sam Curran who bailed them out at Edgbaston singlehandedly, he was again at it at Southampton and with Jos Buttler finding form after the Lord’s test, the England batting line up indeed ran very deep. Adil Rashid’s vital contributions down the order with the bat during the entire series cannot be ignored. He managed to stitch together some valuable partnerships with the two players mentioned above and helped salvage several dire situations for England. It was this lower order resistance from England that kept them ahead of India throughout the series.
For India too, after the top and middle order had collapsed, it was the likes of Ashwin, Pant, Sharma and Bumrah who came to India’s rescue with some dour resistance, partnering the lone standing batsman to help perform the rescue act time and again. But for their contributions, India would have been absolutely blown away in the series.
Brilliant bowling from both teams
India landed in England with arguably their finest pace bowling attack ever. If they showed glimpses of their potential in South Africa, they further drove home the point that India was no more just ‘The land of the tweakers’. They matched the home team’s pace battery of Anderson, Broad, Curran, Woakes and Stokes with their very own in the form of Sharma, Shami and Bumrah. It was the bowling attacks of both teams that kept their teams in the fray and kept most of the matches close.
If England made a massive blunder in dropping their hero of Edgbaston – Sam Curran, for the Trent Bridge test, they were matched in deed by India in their absurd selection of left arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav in hugely overcast conditions at Lord’s. While Kohli’s thinking should be applauded – England struggled greatly against the spinner in the ODI series and a wrist spinner is considered an attacking option– the timing of his selection was strange to say the least. Both decisions backfired spectacularly on the respective teams as India were a pace bowler short at the home of cricket and England missed their saviour of Edgbaston at Trent Bridge, when their batting collapsed again in spectacular fashion.
The second major fiasco both teams committed were the continued selection of inadequate test openers in Keaton Jennings for England and Shikhar Dhawan for India. Right from the outset, both these players displayed a lack of proper technique to cope with the conditions. This effectively meant that by sticking with them, both teams were going into matches with an opener and a batsman short as neither of them made a contribution of any note over the entire series.
‘Toss’ it out
If there would be one captain in international cricket that would like to do away with the toss, it would have to be Virat Kohli. The Indian captain extended his unenviable record of losing the toss to 7 out of 8, in overseas tests since the start of the year. While he could hardly be faulted for it – and the team playing better cricket over 5 days is the one that wins a test - it never let India have first crack at their preferred option and have the best of conditions. This couldn’t ring any truer than at Lord’s when the test match was literally decided at the toss. With near unplayable conditions for the batsmen, whichever captain called correctly all but sealed the match for his team. Root did and the rest is history.
The England Redemption
Michael Holding had famously commented when India were touring South Africa earlier this year saying – ‘Virat Kohli will be considered a great batsman, only once he scores runs in England, till then he will only be a very good batsman.’
Virat Kohli emphatically stamped out any debate as to his stature in the game with an astounding return of 593 runs for the series. He fell just short of Rahul Dravid’s India record against England in England of 602 runs. He was the standout batsman of the series from both sides. If not for his stellar show, India would never have even competed in the series. It would be fair to say that his was the most prized wicket for either side in the series. In fact so crucial was his wicket that as long as he was there, both at Edgbaston and at Southampton, India had a real chance of winning and with his departure from the middle on both occasions, India collapsed to lose narrowly.
Anderson vs. Kohli
The duel of the summer lived up to its top billing. It was indeed absorbing cricket watching a master of swing going at it against the best test batsman in the world, 2 gladiators fighting to the death. If Anderson had won the first round in 2014, this round clearly belonged to Kohli, not falling even once to his nemesis during the entire series. (Although he could so easily have dismissed him on a couple of occasions had the England fielders held their catches).
So determined was Kohli to not hand his wicket to the Englishman, that he suppressed his aggressive instincts, playing him out cautiously throughout instead of trying to take him on.
Kohli inarguably won the battle, but Anderson won the war, snaring the most wickets in the series, 24 of them, to lead his team to victory.
A Star is born!
The son of the late former Zimbabwe all-rounder Kevin Curran and the brother of England player Tom Curran, 20- year old Sam Curran came out of nowhere to be England’s man of the moment. Whenever England found themselves in trouble, their messiah Curran was always around to bail them out. It was his match changing innings of 63 at Edgbaston –England were precariously placed at 7-87 with a meager first innings lead of 13 runs- that turned the tide of an even contest in England’s favour. Add to that his 5 wickets in the match and he was clearly the difference between the two sides.
The junior Curran was performing his rescue act again at Southampton, when India’s pace attack – generating prodigious swing and seam movement- had England on the ropes at 6-86, only for the diminutive all-rounder to counter attack his way to a top score of 78, giving England’s bowlers something to bowl at. In fact so vital were his contributions that when England left him out of the Trent Bridge test, they capitulated in his absence for a paltry first innings score of 161 thereby decisively handing the advantage to India, which the visitors gratefully accepted.
He was rightly adjudged the man-of-the series, for without him the series scoreline could have been entirely different.
England’s man for all seasons and… formats
The first name on every England team sheet in the limited overs formats; Jos Buttler proved that he could cut it at the highest level with some stellar performances in the just concluded series as well as the preceding one against Pakistan. He provided The Three Lions with the much-needed stability in the middle order thus proving to be England’s man for all seasons and formats.
After a slow start, failing in the first 2 tests, he found form in the third test with a typical Buttler innings, smashing the Indian bowling en route to a quick fire 39, following it up with his maiden test century in England’s second innings. Although it was in vein as the home side slumped to defeat, it provided him with much-needed confidence to end up as England’s top run getter in the series, with a return of 349 runs.
Cook and Anderson’s moment!
Alastair Cook signed off from a glittering career in style, marking his farewell test with two innings of classical Cook pedigree, a half-century in his penultimate innings and a stellar century in his last visit to the crease. With his final innings hundred, he also joined an elite group of batsmen who crossed the three-figure mark in both their debut and final tests.
To extend an already perfect script for Cook, he had his teammate and close friend Jimmy Anderson achieve a fabulous landmark himself – becoming the highest wicket taker in test cricket, among pace bowlers when he claimed his 564th wicket, surpassing the legendary Glenn McGrath.
It was a fitting end to a wonderful career for one and a tribute to the endurance and drive of the other.
It was indeed a riveting series and the best advertisement for Test cricket one could hope for. Whoever said Test cricket is dying?